Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Blue ring discovered around Uranus

07.04.2006


Ring in Mab’s oribit intriguingly similar to Saturn’s blue ring in Enceladus’ orbit


A schematic view of the outer rings of Saturn and Uranus, in which each system has been scaled to a common planetary radius. The main rings of Uranus have been drawn to emphasize that these rings are extremely narrow. Credit: de Pater, Hammel, Gibbard, and Showalter, courtesy of Science magazine



The outermost ring of Uranus, discovered just last year, is bright blue, making it only the second known blue ring in the solar system, according to a report this week in the journal Science.

Perhaps not coincidentally, both blue rings are associated with small moons.


"The outer ring of Saturn is blue and has Enceledus right smack at its brightest spot, and Uranus is strikingly similar, with its blue ring right on top of Mab’s orbit," said Imke de Pater, professor of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley. "The blue color says that this ring is predominantly submicron-sized material, much smaller than the material in most other rings, which appear red."

The authors of the paper in the April 7 issue of Science are de Pater, Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif.; Heidi B. Hammel of the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.; and Seran Gibbard of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

The similarity between these outer rings implies a similar explanation for the blue color, according to the authors. Many scientists now ascribe Saturn’s blue E ring to the small dust, gas and ice particles spewed into Encedadus’ orbit by newly discovered plumes on that moon’s surface. However, this is unlikely to be the case with Mab, a small, dead, rocky ball, about 15 miles across – one-twentieth the diameter of Enceladus.

Instead, the astronomers suspect both rings owe their blue color to subtle forces acting on dust in the rings that allow smaller particles to survive while larger ones are recaptured by the moon.

"We know now that there is at least one way to make a blue ring that doesn’t involve plumes, because Mab is surely too small to be internally active," said Showalter. He and astronomer Jack Lissauer of NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., discovered Mab in Hubble Space Telescope images in 2003.

The likely scenario to explain Saturn’s blue ring was proposed before plumes were discovered last November as the Cassini spacecraft flew by Enceladus. As modeled for the E ring, meteoroid impacts on the surface of Enceladus scatter debris into its orbit, probably in a broad range of sizes. While the larger pieces remain within the moon’s orbit and eventually are swept up by the moon, smaller particles are subject to subtle forces that push them toward or away from the planet out of the moon’s orbit. These forces include pressure from sunlight, magnetic torques acting on charged dust particles, and the influence of slight variations in gravity due to the equatorial bulge of Saturn.

The net result is a broad ring of smaller particles, most less than a tenth of a micron across – a thousandth the width of a human hair – that scatter and reflect predominantly blue light.

"This model can be transferred directly to what we now see in Uranus," de Pater said, although we still need to understand the details of the process.

All other rings – those around Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune – are reddish. Though they contain particles of many sizes that reflect many wavelengths of light, red dominates not only because larger particles – many microns to meters across – are abundant, but also because the material itself may be reddish, perhaps from iron.

"Arguing by analogy, the two outermost rings, the two rings that have satellites embedded in them, are both the blue rings. That can’t be coincidental, there has to be a common thread of dynamics that is causing both of these phenomena," Showalter said.

The discovery of the blue ring came after combining ground-based near-infrared observations by the Keck Telescope in Hawaii and visible-light photos taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. De Pater, Hammel and Gibbard have observed Uranus since 2000 with the second-generation NIRC2 infrared camera using the adaptive optics system on the Keck II telescope, and in August 2005 obtained 30 new images of the planet in hopes of seeing new features as the ring plane moves edge-on to Earth.

Showalter and Lissauer, on the other hand, captured numerous visible-light images of Uranus between 2003 and 2005 with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys.

Neither team realized it had captured pictures of new rings until an extensive analysis, basically piling image upon image until faint features stood out from the background. In December 2005, as Showalter and Lissauer reported finding two new rings – Uranus’s 12th and 13th – and two new moons, Mab and Cupid, numbers 26 and 27, de Pater, Hammel and Gibbard reported seeing the red, innermost of the two new rings but not the outermost. The blue ring peaks in brightness about 97,700 kilometers from the planet’s center, exactly at Mab’s orbit.

Further analysis proved to both teams that the outer ring seen in visible light was definitely not observable in the near-infrared, and so must be blue. The analysis also showed that Mab, which like its ring could not be seen in the infrared, is probably covered with water ice, like the other outer moons of Uranus, and is probably Uranus’s smallest moon.

"If Mab would have been similar to Uranus’ other inner moons, we would have seen it,", Gibbard adds, "which implies that it probably is covered by water-ice, like Uranus’ classical moons.

The two teams plan further observations of Uranus to discover more about the rings as well as about the planet’s surface. In 2007, with the rings edge-on to Earth, faint rings should be much more visible, Hammel said.

Robert Sanders | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.berkeley.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Studying fundamental particles in materials
17.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Struktur und Dynamik der Materie

nachricht Seeing the quantum future... literally
16.01.2017 | University of Sydney

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

Im Focus: Designing Architecture with Solar Building Envelopes

Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.

As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...

Im Focus: How to inflate a hardened concrete shell with a weight of 80 t

At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).

Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...

Im Focus: Bacterial Pac Man molecule snaps at sugar

Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.

The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

Nothing will happen without batteries making it happen!

05.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Water - as the underlying driver of the Earth’s carbon cycle

17.01.2017 | Earth Sciences

Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

17.01.2017 | Materials Sciences

Smart homes will “LISTEN” to your voice

17.01.2017 | Architecture and Construction

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>